Cordelia Fine, her awesomeness, and her relatives

Lots of us here are HUGE fans of Cordelia Fine, and have been trying desperately to keep ourselves from boring you with post after post about how awesome she is. (Our one post is here.) But today I’ve got an excuse for another post. The Guardian has an article by her (thrillingly, in the Family Section, usually home to much gender essentialism.) She tells a lovely anecdote about the sexism at her primary school and her parents’ efforts to fight it.

I can recall coming home one day with the news that we were being taught how to sew. “We” the girls, that is. The boys were doing woodwork. The next day, my father was carefully dressed in his best suit and sent to visit the head. The hastily purchased copy of the Daily Telegraph tucked under his arm was intended to make the point better than mere argument. My mother hoped the thought would strike that when even conservatively dressed male Telegraph readers find your school practices sexist and outdated, it’s time to embrace progress.

But then things started to dawn on me. Fine’s mother is Anne Fine, who I knew was an author. I didn’t know that she’d written Bill’s New Frock, however, which I’d heard about years ago and promptly forgotten. (I’ve ordered it now!) But then I remembered that she was at one time married to philosopher Kit Fine. So my assumption is that the man disguised as a Telegraph-reader complaining about gender indoctrination was Kit Fine. And good for him!

OK, I can’t help it. Back to Cordelia Fine’s awesomeness. She’s awesome, so awesome. And here’s another anecdote, involving a conversational strategy I may well try!

I’m pleased to say that the sheer extensiveness of the scientific terrain I covered enabled me to be tiresome in all sorts of different ways. Among friends, a well-timed sentence beginning with “Interestingly …” became my favourite way to spoil a perfectly pleasant conversation. “Interestingly, in humans there’s no clear causal relationship between testosterone and aggressive behaviour,” I would say casually to a parent describing a group of boys’ behaviour as “testosterone-fuelled”. A dear friend was gently rebuked with the same word when she mentioned having to stock up the present cupboard with more “girl toys”. I couldn’t help myself.

“Interestingly,” I remarked, “a recent laboratory study of children’s play behaviour found that girls spent twice as long playing with ‘boy toys’ as they did with ‘girl toys’.”